Latin America in U.S. Line of Fire

LAURA BÉCQUER PASEIRO

Revelations made by former CIA analyst Edward Snowden have opened a Pandora’s box and created an international scandal which could easily continue for some time. The United States government’s vast espionage network has not only focused on U.S. citizens, but various countries around the world as well, including many in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The Brazilian daily O Globo recently published documents describing in detail the U.S. surveillance program in the region, which apparently was not only devoted to gathering military information, but commercial secrets as well.

The newspaper reported that U.S. espionage targeted the oil and energy industries in Venezuela and Mexico, and that the most spied-upon country in Latin America was Brazil. The documents indicated that another priority target was Colombia, where surveillance focused on the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces-Army of the People (FARC-EP). Other countries which were continually monitored, albeit to a lesser degree, were Argentina, Ecuador, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Paraguay, Chile, Peru and El Salvador.

According to the documents obtained by O Globo, between January and March this year, U.S. National Security Agency personnel monitored the region using at least two programs: Prism – which allows access to e-mail, online conversations and internet voice communication provided by companies such as Facebook, Google, Microsoft and YouTube – and X-Keyscore which can identify the presence of a foreign visitor in the country based on the language used in e-mail messages.

Demands made by Latin American countries that the Obama administration provide an explanation of its participation in the incident with Bolivian President Evo Morales’ airplane, reflect regional indignation. Statements from a variety of leaders described the events as unacceptable violations of international law.

SNOWDEN’S REQUESTS FOR ASYLUM

Speaking with Granma, Cuban professor Alzugaray commented on offers of asylum made to Snowden by Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia, saying that no other region in the world is in a better position to take such a stance vis-à-vis the United States. Latin America and the Caribbean, he emphasized, have been a primary target of U.S. intelligence operations and have suffered first hand the consequences of this policy for some time. Although Snowden’s revelations surprised no one, denouncing such espionage is a way of letting the U.S. know that it cannot act with impunity in the region.

The professor pointed out that the Snowden case has brought attention to the expansion of ‘national security’ operations both within the U.S. and internationally, and to the practically unlimited power intelligence organizations have acquired. Some sectors within the U.S. government have reacted with panic, concerned with what more Snowden could reveal, while others have attempted to distance themselves from the phenomenon, he said.

The 29-year-old technician who leaked details of the government’s secret surveillance of telephone calls and internet messages is for Dr. Alzugaray “a time bomb that could explode at any moment and oblige the administration and Congress to review and reduce the autonomy of these intelligence organizations, from Homeland Security to the NSA, the CIA, the FBI and others.

Snowden is not, however, the only concern. The list includes Bradley Manning, the soldier who sent Wikileaks thousands of diplomatic e-mails and other documents about the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, who is currently being prosecuted in military court.

U.S: spying around the world is nothing new. The Spanish daily La voz de Galicia recently summarized the numerous precedents, going back to the Civil War (1861-1865) when Abraham Lincoln authorized supervision of information transmitted by telegraph. His Secretary of War Edwin Stanton invaded the privacy of citizens, detained journalists and decided what messages could be sent.

Professor Alzugaray recalled the warnings issued by U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961) about the power of the military-industrial complex and the Church Committee hearings after the Watergate case and the war in Vietnam.

He commented that the Snowden case appears very similar to that of Daniel Ellsberg who revealed the Pentagon Papers in the 1970’s, “Ellsberg himself commented to the Washington Post that the U.S. is not the same as it was in his time and that Snowden’s flight was totally legitimate. It is no surprise that many governments and progressive political forces are sympathetic to the young man and are wiling to offer him asylum.”

Given the situation, an unrepentant U.S. government continues to keep an eye on its southern neighbors, putting them in its line of fire. 

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Poverty Declines in Nicaragua

Granma Internacional

Nicaragua reduced poverty by 14% in 2012, according to data from a Home Questionnaire conducted by the International Foundation for Global Economic Challenge (FIDEG), with the rate dropping 1.4 percentage points to 42.7%, from 44.1% in 2011.

The information indicates that more than 84,000, among the country’s population of approximately six million, are no longer attempting to live on less than $2 a day and another 34,000 emerged from extreme poverty.

Enrique Alaniz, FIDEG research director, reported that contributing to the reduction in poverty were family remittances, which surpassed a billion dollars, 11.2% more than the $911,600 Nicaraguans received in 2011.

He explained that the poverty rate has, however, been consistently falling for the last four years. In 2009 it stood at 44.7% of the population.

Experts attribute progress to programs supporting the most vulnerable, implemented by the Sandinista government which returned to office in 2007. These efforts have benefited more than half a million people over the last six years.

One of the most recognized is Usura Cero, (Zero Usury) which has already this year supported some 2,528 women in launching small businesses and, by extension their families, according to its director Leonor Corea.

The Ministry of Family, Community, Cooperative and Associative Economics has reported the delivery of food benefits to 100,000 families with children, in addition to programs such as Crissol, serving 20,000; Alimentary and Nutritional Security (14,000) and the Micro-Small Business Service (46,000).

Additionally, 1,610 persons have benefited from the Juvenile Initiative; 5,500 through Procaval and 175,000 via Healthy Backyards, which supplies families with seedlings, allowing them to grow food in their own yards.

The United Nations World Food and Agricultural Organization has recognized the country’s efforts, in particular, the provision of a free school lunch, to all children in grades one through nine.

During the period 1989-2010, Nicaragua reduced malnutrition from 52% to 19%, supporting more than a million people, according to the UN organization’s reports.

South American Leaders Condemn Spain’s Rajoy for Provocation Against Evo Morales

Buenos Aires Herald

President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was among several South American leaders who spoke out at an emergency Unasur meeting, convened after Evo Morales was stopped from landing in several European nations. Cristina called on the responsible nations to apologise, and spoke out in defence of the Bolivian leader.

The head of state declared that she had arrived in Cochabamba to “express my own and the Argentine people’s solidarity against the attack that the president of this country [Morales] and our societies have suffered.”

Speaking directly to France, Spain and Portugal, the countries who refused Morales permission to land, Kirchner called for remorse: “I want to ask those who have broken the law peacefully, but very seriously, that they take responsibility and make it right,” she affirmed.

“For once, apologise for what you have done.”

Venezuela president Nicolas Maduro also launched a fierce attack on Spanish leader Mariano Rajoy.

Maduro labelled Rajoy, of the Popular Party, “undignified” for his alleged efforts to check Morales’ presidential jet, and added “we can now take him off his own plane to look for the Euros which he has robbed.”

“What does Rajoy’s government think? That we still live in colonial times?” The Venezuelan premier continued.

The United States were also subjected to Maduro’s accusations: “They are afraid of Edward Snowden”, he fired. “The imperialist force has driven itself crazy over this 29-year-old man, I warned Evo that he should take care.”

Ecuador Offers USA Human Rights Training

Correa: We Won’t Tolerate Blackmail

Jason Ditz

Faced with several days of overt threats from the Obama Administration and top senators threatening to revoke a key US-Ecuador trade pact if they dare to grant asylum to Edward Snowden, the Ecuadoran government has told the US what they can do with their frozen broccoli and fresh cut flowers, and has cancelled the pact themselves.

President Rafael Correa said that his nation would not tolerate US blackmail and that the trade pact wasn’t worth the harm it would do to Ecuadoran sovereignty. With most of its neighbors getting free trade with the US, the loss of the pact may put Ecuador at an economic disadvantage.

But only really on the broccoli and the flowers. Though those are big exports to the US, they are dwarfed by Ecuador’s largest export, oil. And if Ecuador’s oil is no longer welcome in the US, that’s one commodity they can easily sell elsewhere.

And just in case there were any doubts of what Ecuador was telling the Obama Administration, the nation’s Communications Secretary, Fernando Alvarado, announced $23 million in Ecuadoran aid to the United States to provide “human rights training” to combat torture, illegal executions and “attacks on peoples’ privacy.”

Henrique Capriles: Venezuela’s Sore Loser

Dan Beeton

Reuters reported Sunday that the president of Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE) Tibisay Lucena has criticized opposition candidate Henrique Capriles for not presenting proof to back up his claims of fraud (also the focus of our post earlier today):

“We have always insisted that Capriles had the right to challenge the process,” Tibisay Lucena, president of the electoral council, said in a televised national broadcast.

“But it is also his obligation to present proof.”

She dismissed various opposition submissions alleging voting irregularities as lacking key details, and said Capriles had subsequently tried to present the audit in very different terms than the electoral council had agreed to.

“It has been manipulated to generate false expectations about the process, including making it look like the consequence of the wider audit could affect the election results,” she said.

Lucena’s statements that the election audit of the remaining voting machines, as initially called for by Capriles, will not change the results are correct, although perhaps not for the reasons she meant. As noted on Friday, we did a statistical analysis of the probability of the results of the audit of the first 53 percent of voting machines finding the results it did if the remaining 46 percent of voting machines in Venezuela had enough discrepancies to change the results of the election. The probability, according to our calculations, is less than 1 in 25,000 trillion.

The math is pretty straightforward. Considering how many votes by which Nicolás Maduro was declared the winner, and that the initial audit of 54 percent of machines didn’t find anything, and considering how many votes there are per machine, it is almost impossible for the remaining 46 percent of machines to have enough discrepancies to change the election results.

Perhaps because he realized the audit is not likely to change things for him, Capriles has shifted course, now demanding access to the electoral registry and fingerprint records. In light of this news, some have attempted seriously painful logical gymnastics in order to make Capriles’ arguments seem plausible. Writing for Foreign Policy, for example, blogger Juan Nagel asks “Does Henrique Capriles actually have a case to cry fraud?” But Nagel does not seem interested in actually examining the question; his mind seems already to have been made up. Shortly after noting that,

Voters identify themselves at polling centers by showing their government-issued ID card and scanning their fingerprints. The scanner then (supposedly) verifies the identity of the voter, and if it passes, unlocks a machine the voter uses to cast her vote.

Nagel writes:

One has to wonder: How could chavistas get away with this? The explanation, according to Capriles, lies in the fingerprint scanning machines. According to him, these machines allow anyone to vote, regardless of whether the fingerprint matches the records. [Emphasis added.]

But as election monitors who witnessed voting in the April 14 election described to us, the process is more fool-proof than Nagel summarizes. As noted in our April 14 live blog:

People must show identification, their serial number is then entered into a digital device and their photo comes up, then they give a thumb print to verify their identity again.

Rather than just “anyone” being allowed to vote, government ID is required, and the voter’s identity is verified. The voter then enters her/his finger print as a second check against fraud.

Despite the lack of evidence of fraud, or any plausible explanation for how the election could have been stolen in spite of the integrity of the Venezuelan electoral system, press reports and commentary continue to treat Capriles’ claims seriously. This stands in contrast to the foreign media’s treatment of Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s cry of “fraud” following the 2006 election in which Felipe Calderon was declared the winner. “An Anti-Democracy Campaign; Mexico’s presidential loser takes a lesson from Joseph Stalin,” ran a Washington Post editorial headline. The Times of London declared him “Mexico’s bad loser: A demagogue prepared to hold the nation to ransom,” while the Toronto Globe and Mail called him “Mexico’s sore loser.” So far at least, no major U.S., British or Canadian paper has labeled Capriles a “sore loser” and the Washington Post has yet to compare him to Stalin.

The double standard between media treatment of the left-leaning López Obrador and the right-wing Capriles is even more striking considering that López Obrador led in the polls up until the vote. López Obrador and his supporters were understandably surprised when the official results declared Calderon to be the winner. Capriles, on the other hand, always trailed Maduro in the polls; the surprise on April 14 was not that he lost, but that he came as close to winning as he did.

More importantly, in the 2006 Mexican election there were “adding up” errors in nearly half the ballot boxes – i.e. the leftover blank ballots plus the voted (including spoiled) ballots didn’t add up to the blank ballots with which the ballot box location started out. The results were announced with millions of votes still uncounted, and there was a considerable lack of transparency – including a refusal by electoral authorities to release the results of a partial recount. Journalists covering the Mexican election at the time should have demanded answers from the authorities and commentators should have treated López Obrador’s complaints very seriously, since there really was no way to tell who had won that election. The burden of proof in Venezuela, however, should be on Capriles to explain exactly how the election could conceivably have been stolen.

Hugo Chávez, Soldier of the People Forever

chavez-kirchner

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, President of Argentina

Argentine President Cristina Fernández visits Montaña Garrison

I awoke on a cloudy day and am leaving in the sun. I have just visited the Montaña Garrison. It is surrounded by working class neighborhoods. You can see Miraflores in the distance. The head of the guard told me that Hugo always looked this way from his office there. How could he not! This is where he planned the insurrection against Andrés Pérez. The 4th Republic, the tragic epilogue to the Punto Fijo agreement, when the Caracazo broke out – or as Hugo liked to say, the Venezolazo – the final crisis of neoliberal policies.

Repression and death to the people. Coincidences in our history are no accident. Hugo rose up against this from the Montaña Garrison. He failed, “for now,” as he announced upon surrendering.

They showed me a fully restored colonial era cannon. Every day at 4:25 pm the old cannon fires a salute to mark the time of his departure. 4:25? Eva died at 8:25. What capricious times! Don’t you think? When I returned to the broad, bright, outdoor patio, I could not avoid the infinite sadness. There were television cameras, reporters, commentators. Cilia, married to Nicolás, accompanied me. I politely asked all of them to withdraw. I wanted to be alone. Thank you, thank you very much. I hope you understand. I hope so.

The patio was left empty. I was accompanied only by the four hussars of Carbobo on duty, providing the permanent Honor Guard. From somewhere else, the sound of Hugo singing softly could be heard, as if it were floating. How he loved to sing! The sound of the water which surrounds his space could also be heard. But, for a moment, there was complete silence. Or at least, that is what I felt. I could only hear that some of the guards were crying with me. It is strange. Until today, I had not shed a single tear. Not on March 5, when I was informed. Not on March 6, when I attended the wake along with so many others. Florencia, on the other hand, cried so much, she had to leave, she couldn’t breathe. Me, nothing. It was as if I did not want to admit or accept it. I don’t know, some day, if I decide to, I’ll explain it to a psychologist.

Chavez funeral: A young man adjusts a banner before the start Hugo Chavez funeral

I stayed there a while. I walked around the marble coffin, again and again. I see the carving of a phrase from one of Hugo’s speeches in which he mentions Alí Primera. Who is Alí Primera? A popular Venezuelan singer-songwriter, a member of the Communist Party, who died February 16, 1985. February 16, the day my son was born. Hugo departed the day my sister was born. Strange, when you get old, you start in with this business of dates.

The last gift Hugo gave me, was the complete collection of Alí Primera on CD.

His daughter, María brought it to me in Olivos, November 8, and she told me the story. As a young officer, her father would secretly listen to the songs, because they were prohibited in the military.

I read the speech excerpt and the date on which it was delivered. June 12, 2012. June 12, the date of Peron’s last speech. What is this with dates? I was in the Plaza de Mayo that day. 21 years old. The year, 1974. My mother! (She was there, too). So many things. So much history. Strange, the dates, the events. The visible connections. And the invisible ones, as well.

When I went down to see the portraits of Hugo in the galleries which surround the patio, Nicolás entered with those who were waiting outside and accompanied me around the area.

We entered a small, but precious, chapel. Two Virgins. One from the Valley and the other… Rosa Mística! The Virgin venerated in La Plata. I couldn’t believe it.

I told Nicolás that I was going to send an image of the Virgin of Luján to be placed in the chapel and I told them the story, of the Virgin, of course.

It was May, 1630. She was traveling on a wagon toward Brazil, carrying among other things, two boxes with contained images of Virgins. Attempting to cross the Luján River, in Buenos Aires, the wagon was stuck. They added more oxen, but no good. Finally, they removed of the boxes with the Virgins from the wagon, to no avail. They removed the second box and the wagon took off, with no difficulty at all. They loaded the box once more, and once again the wagon wouldn’t budge. The drivers were confounded and the Virgin stubborn. When they opened the box, the image of the dark skinned Virgin appeared. The wagon took off, but the Virgin stayed in Luján. She is now in the Basilica, where she is venerated as Argentina’s patron saint. They were fascinated by the story.

The restoration of the Basilica, was Nestor’s first act. I didn’t tell them that, but it’s true, too.

We continued touring the site. There are two halls with photographs which depict Hugo’s life. What most moved me was an immense mural. Hugo, from the back, walking in the rain, on October 4, his last and most glorious event, which was not, as some believe, the closure of his campaign. It was his last act of love. I understood that later, when I learned of his terrible, unbearable pain. Of his beyond-human sacrifice. My God!

I said to Nicolás, “This is the place. Don’t even think about taking him anywhere else, as magnificent as it might seem. This is where he began and this is where he must stay. In HIS place. In his garrison, in the humble neighborhood. Soldier of the people. Definitively and for ever.”

USA Intentionally Undermining Venezuela’s Democracy

Dan Kovalik

Update: Venezuelan government agrees to expand audit of votes to 100 percent of all votes cast

The United States is refusing to recognize the results of the Venezuelan elections, insisting that Venezuela conduct a re-count of 100 percent of the votes in light of the narrow margin of victory for Nicolas Maduro. The facts surrounding the voting process and election outcome in Venezuela, the U.S.’s own experiences with close presidential elections, and the U.S.’s recent recognition of coup governments in Latin America demonstrate that the U.S.’s position in regard to Venezuela has nothing to do with the U.S.’s alleged concerns for democracy, but rather, its complete disdain for it.

I just returned from Venezuela where I was one of over 170 international election observers from around the world, including India, Guyana, Suriname, Colombia, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Scotland, England, the United States, Guatemala, Argentina, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, Jamaica, Brazil, Chile, Greece, France, Panama and Mexico. These observers included two former presidents (of Guatemala and the Dominican Republic), judges, lawyers and numerous high ranking officials of national electoral councils. What we found was an election system which was transparent, inherently reliable, well-run and thoroughly audited.

Indeed, as to the auditing, what has been barely mentioned by the mainstream press is the fact that around 54 percent of all votes are, and indeed have already been, audited to ensure that the electronic votes match up with the paper receipts which serve as back-up for these electronic votes. And, this auditing is done in the presence of witnesses from both the governing and opposition parties right in the local polling places themselves. I witnessed just such an audit at the end of election day on Sunday. And, as is the usual case, the paper results matched up perfectly with the electronic ones. As the former Guatemalan President, Alvaro Colom, who served as an observer, opined, the vote in Venezuela is “secure” and easily verifiable.

In short, the observers’ experience this past week aligns with former U.S. president Jimmy Carter’s observation last year that Venezuela’s electoral system is indeed the “the best in the world.”

And so, what were the results of the election? With an impressive 79 percent of registered voters going to the polls, Nicolas Maduro won by over 260,000 votes, with a 1.6 percentage point margin over Henrique Capriles (50.7 to 49.1 percent). While this was certainly a close race, 260,000 votes is a comfortable victory, certainly by U.S. election standards. Thus, recall that John F. Kennedy beat Richard Nixon in 1960 with 49.7 percent of the vote to Nixon’s 49.6 percent. In addition, George W. Bush became president in 2000, though losing the popular vote to Al Gore, with 47.87 percent of the vote to Gore’s 48.38 percent, and with the entire race coming down to several hundred votes in Florida, with the Supreme Court actually blocking a hand recount in Florida. In none of these cases, did any nation in the world insist upon a recount or hesitate in recognizing the man declared to be the winner. Indeed, had a country like Venezuela done so, we would have found such a position absurd. The U.S.’s current position vis à vis Venezuela is no less absurd.

The U.S.’s position is all the more ridiculous given its quick recognition of the coup government in Paraguay after the former bishop-turned president, Fernando Lugo, was ousted in 2012, and its recognition of the 2009 elections in Honduras despite the fact that the U.S.’s stated precondition for recognizing this election — the return of President Manuel Zelaya to power after his forcible ouster by the military — never occurred. Of course, this even pales in comparison to the U.S.’s active involvement in coups against democratically-elected leaders in Latin America (e.g., against President Árbenz in Guatemala in 1954, against President Allende in Chile in 1973, and against President Aristide in Haiti in 2004).

And, the U.S.’s failure to recognize the Venezuelan elections is having devastating consequences in Venezuela, for it is emboldening the Venezuelan opposition to carry out violence in order to destabilize that country. Unlike Al Gore in 2000 who stepped aside for George W. Bush in the interest of his country and the U.S. Constitution, the Venezuelan opposition, being led by Henrique Capriles, clearly wants to foster chaos and crisis in Venezuela in order to topple the Maduro government by force (just as the same forces represented by Capriles forcibly kidnapped and briefly overthrew President Chavez, with U.S. support, in 2002). Thus, reasonably believing itself to have the backing of the U.S. and its military, the opposition is causing mayhem in Venezuela, including burning down clinics, destroying property, attacking Cuban doctors and destroying ruling party buildings. In all, seven Venezuelans are dead and dozens injured in this opposition-led violence.

There is no doubt that the U.S. could halt this violence right now by recognizing the results of the Venezuelan elections, just as the nations of the world recognized, without question, the results of the elections which put John F. Kennedy in power in 1960 and George W. Bush in power in 2000. The reason the U.S. is not doing so is obvious: It does not like the Venezuelans’ chosen form of government, and welcomes that government’s demise, even through violence. The U.S., therefore, is not supporting democracy and stability in Venezuela; it is intentionally undermining it.